Call it the Eat, Pray, Love effect for the nature lover. Cheryl Strayed fans are hiking the Pacific Crest Trail after being inspired by Wild. Strayed says she’s received more than 1,000 emails from people ready to lace up their hiking boots, but a trail information specialist says he’s only seen six women make the full trek.
As laid out by Didion and the anthology’s contributors, it happens like this: First there’s anticipation, imagining how your life will finally make sense when you arrive. The actual experience of living here is one of finding your place, followed by an intense feeling of ownership. You can stay at that point for years. But eventually, sometimes without knowing it, you begin the slow slide toward a moment of decisiveness. Sometime after that, there’s the actual leaving. And then, the having left. Living in New York turns out to be a process of earning nostalgia — hoarding enough memories to give you the kind of claim on a place that makes it possible to leave it. When you reach your limit and set out elsewhere, memories are your consolation prize. (Bonus points for writing about them.)
A lot of women feel a connection to Cheryl Strayed, but one reader’s connection was personal. Strayed’s lost half-sister found her when she just happened to check out Wild because she liked travel narratives. “She didn’t know anything about me except when she read the description in my book of my early life, my mother and my father, she knew that father was hers, too. I don’t name my father in the book but she recognized him,” Strayed told NPR.
There is no relationship between the quality of the writing and the conviviality of the writer who wrote it. I think it’s ridiculous to expect to like someone who wrote a book you love, but the increasing visibility of writers on social media—who are expected to be the ambassadors of their books—amps up the pressure to be well-liked.
Robin Grearson: Do you ever do something and think, Sugar would kick my ass for doing that. Is there any kind of interaction with her as an other, an alter-ego?
Cheryl Strayed: Oh, all the time.
I know a lot of writers, which means there are days when my social media feeds are clogged with relentless self-promotion. Everyone’s written a book, and everyone wants you to buy it.
This is a delicate point, because we do need to sell our books. Selling books is how we make our living, or at least part of our living. But there are days when I wish we could all just take a deep breath in the midst of all the hustle and remember what matters, because my personal opinion is that what matters the most is the work, not the sales numbers.
What matters is good writing, what matters is that there are people who love books enough to press them into your hands in far-off cities. We are here for the books, but I think it’s easy to get distracted by our longing for success and forget this.